Republican Representatives Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene are suing two Southern California cities and several advocacy groups alleging they conspired to infringe on their free speech rights by pressuring the sites to cancel a gathering in 2021.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday, alleges the venues bowed to pressure from the cities of Anaheim and Riverside and canceled contracts for their America First rally because they disagreed with the policy of Greene and Gaetz. Both lawmakers are known for their strong support for former President Trump.
The lawsuit argues that the 1st Amendment gives lawmakers the freedom to use venues “on the same basis as other organizations and political figures, without regard to their views or the views of speakers at their event.” .
A spokesperson for the town of Riverside declined to comment on the lawsuit on Friday. Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said the city “has not officially received the request but is aware of it and will consider it.”
The lawsuit also names 10 advocacy or political organizations that allegedly pressured city officials and venues not to host the rally.
Gaetz, Greene and their fundraising committees are seeking a statement that each of the defendants violated their rights to free speech and freedom of association in the trial.
They also seek an injunction prohibiting cities from refusing or “compelling private venues to enter into facility use contracts with plaintiffs for future political rallies” and unspecified damages for emotional distress.
Alexander Haberbush, an attorney representing Greene and Gaetz in the lawsuit, declined to comment.
Greene, a congresswoman from Georgia, and Gaetz, who represents much of the Florida Panhandle, attempted to stage their rally at two locations in Orange County and one in Riverside in July 2021, but the sites continued to step back.
Learn more: After Third Ward is Canceled, Gaetz and Greene Organize “Protest Against Communism” in Riverside
The first place to fall was the Pacific Hills Banquet & Event Center in Laguna Hills. The venue’s general manager told the Orange County Register at the time that he chose to cancel after learning that Gaetz and Greene would be talking.
The rally was moved to the Riverside Convention Center, but the city soon began to receive complaints. Councilwoman Gaby Plascencia said at the time that lawmakers “are the antithesis of everything Riverside stands for.”
Raincross Hospitality Management, which operates the convention center, claimed it was canceling the event due to the discrepancy on the certificate of insurance provided to it, according to the lawsuit.
With less than 24 hours to go, the group moved the event to the Grand Theater, a private venue in Anaheim, but controversy followed. Dozens of people contacted the city to denounce the event.
The lawsuit alleges that a city code enforcement officer called the Grand Theater and told the owner and manager that the venue’s conditional use permit would be “in jeopardy if they didn’t rescind the event”.
Without a venue, lawmakers instead staged a “peaceful protest against communism” outside Riverside City Hall.
“These people tried to cancel our halls but they can never cancel our patriotism or our American spirit,” Gaetz said. in a video filmed outside Riverside Town Hall. “They’ll hear us all over Southern California.”
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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.